I’ve been obsessed today by following the events in New Orleans as the Mayor has ordered the evacuation of the city prior to the landfall of Hurricane Gustav. It is at present building up in strength in the Gulf of Mexico, but is expected to hit Louisiana some time in the next twenty four hours. And so the residents of the area expected to be affected are being ordered to move out immediately and find safe places to wait out the storm.
What a terrible thing to happen to people, almost three years to the day since Hurricane Katrina left such scenes of devastation in its wake. I can’t imagine living in a place where you are constantly beset with the fear that you might have to get up and leave at incredibly short notice. My first reaction was to wonder why people went back to New Orleans, if there is this ongoing threat of hugely powerful tropical storms and hurricanes which cause such devastation and, in the worst cases, loss of life. But then, you think it through and realise that most people probably don’t have an option. It is a huge undertaking to move across country and try to find somewhere new to start from scratch; new job, new schools, new home. And I get the impression that a lot of the people in New Orleans aren’t well off. So they won’t have the financial reserves to be able to afford to start over again somewhere else.
I’ve spent much of the day trying to put myself in their position, wondering what I would do if I was living in New Orleans night now. Naturally, with my family I would have to leave and get the children to safety. But what would you pack? In this age where we have, and increasingly feel the need for material possessions, How do you choose what to leave behind? Do you, for example, take the relatively expensive things such as computers, tvs, stereos etc, or do you put your practical head on and salvage kitchen items which may be significantly cheaper to replace but would be infinitely more useful in the short term? I think I’d have to take my laptop with the cds which hold backups of my photos. After that I think I’d try to stay practical, taking long lasting food, clothes, blankets, cooking equipment and toiletries. But it must be heartbreaking to have to leave things behind which you have accumulated over your lifetime, or even that you have inherited. For instance, suppose that you have inherited something like your grandmother’s photo albums or wedding dress; things which are wholly impractical and useless for day to day living but which hold tremendous sentimental value.
Of course, lives are always more important and I’m not advocating staying behind to protect your belongings. I’m just thinking about how difficult it must be to turn your back on everything (bar your family) which makes your house your home.
Last summer, many people across Britain experienced heavy flooding which ruined homes and destroyed their belongings. I imagine in most cases that people were able to move their more precious items up to a higher floor in order to keep them safe. But this flooding was not on the same scale as the weather events which New Orleans experienced three years ago, and that which is threatened in the coming hours. I simply cannot imagine being told that I need to drive a hundred miles away from my home in order to stay safe.
My thoughts and my prayers go out to all these people who have had to abandon their homes and neighbourhoods to find safety elsewhere, and I hope and pray that the hurricane will turn around or somehow miraculously die out before it hits the land. Failing that, I hope that the meteorologists have got it wrong, and that the storm is not gathering strength. I will be following the news avidly through today and tomorrow. Please God let the residents of the affected area have heeded the Mayor’s warnings and left.